“It’s a good feeling,” said Ross after posting a pair of touchdowns in Mississippi State’s 45-17 victory over Troy. “I finally got that monkey off my back.”
OK, it wasn’t a primate on junior receiver Ross’ back. It was a teammate. His alternate at H receiver, Gabe Myles, eased some of his own pains about an ankle injury by ribbing Ross. Sure, the first-team slot man came into Saturday with 33 catches…more than the 31 receptions Ross notched all of 2014.
Yet none of those touches resulted in points. Not yet.
“Gabe joked with me all this week. Like ‘you haven’t scored yet!’” Ross said. “I was like, I remember last year when he didn’t score! He was just messing and talking about you’ve got to get in the end zone. It finally happened and I’m thankful for it.”
Mississippi State can be grateful Ross did break free. His two big-play scores were how the Bulldogs blew everything open in the first quarter, combined with a defensive touchdown in-between. Still it has been surprising that Ross had had to wait since the last play of the first half at the Orange Bowl to score something.
Happily he didn’t have to wait very long into game-six of this season. Like only about 36 seconds, after a short-kickoff return and a six-yard pass from QB Dak Prescott to WR De’Runnya Wilson. That throw was a quick shot to the left side of the field at the line of scrimmage. Troy likely had no clue Prescott would look the same way the next play.
He did. This time though it was with Ross going outside of in-cutting Wilson. “Dak did a good job on that play carrying out the fake, getting the defense off,” Ross said. “Bear also did a good job on the perimeter blocking. My job was easy, all I had to do was catch the ball.”
Well, maybe a little more than that. There wasn’t much room between Wilson, the Trojan he was locked-up with, and the left sideline. Ross squirted through without touching white and got past one more Troy defensive back. Then all he had to do was out-run support to finish a 59-yard touchdown.
Ross had to wait a while before touching another ball, though Prescott did target him on an incompletion in the second State series. Trailing 14-0 Troy had to punt from their 36 and lifted one to the waiting Ross on the Bulldog 23.
“I saw Jamoral (Graham), he came around the corner and was like, follow me. He made a good block to spring me.” Ross was not in the clear. He had to shift angles constantly and at one point seemed sure go to down to the punter, of all people. That would never do and Ross escaped.
“I broke a tackle at the five yard line, that’s all I had to do.”
Ross said it was the first time in his football life to score on both a catch and a return. So then, which was more exciting?
“I kind of liked the punt! I’m going to be real, I liked the punt. I mean, special teams are a big deal here. So returning that punt was a big motivation boost for me.”
Just plain scoring again was a boost. Ross accounted for five touchdowns as a sophomore playing wide receiver. Moving to H has given him many, many more chances to be targeted and Prescott looks for Ross just as quickly as he would wideout Wilson. Yet his first five games produced no points. Now, he’s got 12 of them with a whole half-season ahead. And that punt return touchdown reinforces Coach Dan Mullen’s giving Ross the job…and keeping him there after the infamous opening night fumble at Southern Mississippi.
Ross wasn’t rattled. “I’ve been comfortable all year. I had one bad bounce and I guess that supposedly ruined my confidence.
“But I never lost confidence in myself, I know what I can do as a football player.” Now in case there was any doubts everyone is reminded what Ross can do with a football, receiver or returning.
“I’m just trying to do whatever takes to put my team in the best situation to win.”